Last Wednesday most of Canada witnessed a televised riot in the streets of Vancouver. The mob mentality live and on camera. Over the past week we have also witnessed an online vigilante mob as Vancouver area residents exercise righteous indignation posting publicly, the names, addresses and workplaces of individuals seen on TV in the Wednesday riot.
One mob destroyed property and embarrassed a city, already embarrassed from their team’s lacklustre on-ice performance. The online mob has stampeded over individual rights and protections with wholesale, public accusations of thousands of people — many of whom may only be guilty through association.
Which mob is worse? The property damage can be repaired and downtown Vancouver will recover. Nobody died. That the actions of some in the riots are criminal and those responsible, when apprehended and investigated, should be punished is a given. Whether our justice system will satisfy the public blood lust is doubtful.
The damage being done to individual rights by the Facebook vigilantes, and their enablers in the media is irreparable. Activities that only a short time ago were the hallmark of Soviet and Communist Chinese regimes have become acceptable in Canada. Citizen on citizen. Turn in your neighbour and reap the rewards. No need for evidence, arrest, trial and conviction. Tweet your accusation and let your new Facebook group take care of the justice part.
Like uptight golf fans watching players on TV and phoning in rules infractions to the USGA, it is now honourable for anonymous busy bodies to post personal data on social media sites in an attempt to bludgeon those with whom they disagree. If the online mob can ruin the lives of alleged rioters, they can ruin the lives of innocent bystanders — and will.
On the frustration many in the public feel about the failure of the police to act in this, and other incidents, the “public” has no one to blame but itself. Society no longer has the appetite to witness police in full riot gear wade into the mob, billy clubs swinging and skulls cracking.
Every time the police exert the force required to quell a riot such as witnessed in Vancouver, they are vilified by the very people who are now criticizing the Vancouver police for “allowing” the Vancouver riot to take place. No doubt there is a Facebook group, maybe even an app for this.
The responsibility for the Vancouver riot lays squarely at the feet of Vancouver city officials. Allowing over a hundred thousand people to congregate in public spaces, and demand police engage the crowd as fellow fans, rather than authority figures, is irresponsible.
The consequences of the Vancouver riot is the further erosion of our individual rights by the celebration of online citizen policing and the resulting circumvention of due process.
The more dangerous mob is not the Vancouver rioters — the mob to fear is the faceless Facebook crowd just waiting to drop the dime on you.
Mark Walker is the publisher of the Penticton Western News.